Valerie Mejer & Daniel Borzutzky

Painter and poet Valerie Mejer was born in Mexico City. Her poems explore containment and fragility, layering loss and possibility over a once-familiar landscape. She is the author of the poetry collections Rain of the Future (2013), translated by C.D. Wright, Forrest Gander, and Alexandra Zelman; de la ola, el atajo (2009); Geografías de Niebla (2008); Esta Novela Azul (2004), which was translated by Michelle Gil-Montero as This Blue Novel (2013); and Ante el Ojo de Cíclope (1999). Her book De Elefante a Elefante (1997) won the Spanish Government’s “Gerardo Diego 1966” International Award. Her etchings appear in Raúl Zurita’s Los Boteros de la Noche (2010), and her paintings appear in Forrest Gander’s Ligaduras/Ligatures (2012) and in Antonio Prete’s Menhir (2007) and L’imperfection de la Lune (2007). Mejer is also the recipient of two CONACULTA grants as well as a grant from Sistema Estatal de Creadores for her translations of Australian poet Les Murray’s work.

Daniel Borzutzky’s books and chapbooks include, among others, The Performance of Becoming Human (2016); Memories of my Overdevelopment (2015); In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy (2015), Bedtime Stories For The End of the World! (2015), Data Bodies (2013), The Book of Interfering Bodies (2011), and The Ecstasy of Capitulation (2007). He has translated Raúl Zurita’s The Country of Planks (2015) and Song for his Disappeared Love (2010), and Jaime Luis Huenún’s Port Trakl (2008).  His work has been supported by the Illinois Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pen/Heim Translation Fund. He lives in Chicago.

This work by Valerie Mejer and Daniel Borzutzky was written in concert for and performed bilingually at MAKE MAGAZINE’s Lit and Luz Festival in Chicago (October, 2014) and Mexico City (February, 2015).  Lit and Luz is an ongoing collaboration between writers from Chicago and writers from Mexico.  We thank Sarah Dodson of MAKE Literary Productions for supporting this work.

VIDEOS EDITED by Oriana Camarena Mejer and Paul Cunningham




To Don Mee Choi


My love is a fragile beast


It’s better now that the cameras are broken

to step on the site as if we had no face:

invisible, drinking, clearing the spiderwebs from our

path.  The medals clink

in the distant bells.  Blessed lord,

who reaches out to me with your bloody hands.


The lack of tenderness

makes the appearance of things look severe:

the country seen from the moon

with its giant nose lashed by the storm

and its happy dog’s tail surrounding the Gulf.


This lord of mine when he was just a child

asked if I could put a hill of salt in

his hands.  He asked If I didn’t know that he wouldn’t let

fall even a grain of salt.  “Let’s leave the immoral landscape”

he said to me now, a grown man, with the hill intact,

solid and smooth

(you couldn’t even tell the hours had passed)

He looked like a painting of the New World,

a paradise and also a clean man.


They sent me to remove the bile from

the big fish to cure my father’s blindness.

And everything slips out of my hands:

God’s command,

the opportunity, the scales

that slip away like ideas.


And as the boy grew

his spirt strengthened:

a shepherd in the desert.

The raven, the same

brother of the other ravens

that will fill up the plaza with black

and cawing

in a few minutes that raven will deliver

bread to Saint Paul, just a piece,

just enough to keep him

alive in his hermitage

as if we could all make of ourselves a testimony.

Saint Anthony walked all the way to the hermitage


by satyrs and centaurs.  When the raven

reached the saints

it doubled in recompense

their ration of bread.


In the same room in which my body

would experience the violence, a few years ago

when I was five years old, I realized

that I could spell the words:


The flock and the light gathered

there on the page.  There’s nothing that is white, or almost

nothing among the sheep who pile up

on top of the hill.  Neither the foam, nor the snow, nor the cloud

are actually white.  The first words

I spelled were the absence of color.

When the lamb of Belen arrived

(rhythm of continuous waves)

those the shepherd had summoned

the first line read was a site of tenuous

displacement, a liquid valley

that is not yet called Mexico, and so it was

I drew a tree of lambs

(in the site where God could have been

there was only a raven, and an old man

was walking off the edge of that page.)


Much later but still not now, in a movie

and of course in life because that’s how life is,

a man who was bitter

and Greek and who so far had always been good

(he himself had been the one who adopted the little orphan)

he let her grow up just enough so that he could marry her.

In reality all of the countries are alike, the men like the men,

the women like the women.  And now I am about to tell that

she escaped from her “father-husband”

to run away with her “adopted-brother”

and the fury, the fury of not being able to get rid of his bitterness

in the clean well of the little virgin, drove him

to kill the whole flock , to hang sheep by sheep

branch by branch. And the blood that had previously

helped them to run now soaked the earth, drenching it

so much they thought it was water.


Now it was no longer the before but rather it was the after.

When the room through which the light

entered and where I read


was flooded with the inner fluids

of what had once been alive.   It was no longer

a table but rather it was a bed

in the middle of the room, an invaded camp, a trench.

And in that same spot where corn and cocoa grew

and where at the end there were dmore doors than windows,

more doors than books.  It’s there where

The Republic



The hour of the hour is here, the country begins

and through the window you see its green lustre.  Amid the roots

blood.  And to think that in this same plaza

where it looks like the sunset is the only thing

that ever happens, men hung from every laurel.  And in the hour

of the hour, right now,  cawing black birds

(ravens, perhaps)

screeched from branch to branch.

The afternoon turns from orange to scarlet.

What rained down from the tree appeared to

be in the sky, the offering of the flock,  

the swinging of the shepherd’s axe: foundations.


Did the salt drift?

The floating worlds and the intention of the boy

have nothing to do with the countries.

However, when the day opens, you will find them

(the floating worlds, the intention of the boy)  

in the first hours

in the faces of the early risers,

in certain bends of our winding roads.


Translated from the Spanish by Daniel Borzutzky


a Don Mee Choi


Mi amor es una bestia frágil


Es mejor ahora que las cámaras están rotas

para pisar el sitio como si no tuviéramos cara:

invisibles, bebiendo, retirando telarañas a nuestro

paso. Las medallas tintinean

en las remotas campanas. Alabado señor,

que estiras hacia mí tus manos sangrantes.

La falta de ternura

hace que sea muy estricta la apariencia de la cosas:

el país visto desde la luna

con su gran nariz azotada por la tormenta

y su cola de perro feliz entorno al Golfo.


El señor mío cuando apenas era niño

me preguntó si podía dejar en sus manos un monte

de sal. Que si no sabía yo que él no dejaría caer

ni un solo grano. “Salgamos del paisaje inmoral”

me dijo siendo ya hombre, con el monte intacto

sólido y liso

(sin que se note nunca el paso de las horas)

parecía una pintura del Nuevo Mundo,

un paraíso, y a su vez un hombre limpio.


Me mandaron a sacar la hiel

del gran pez, para curar la ceguera de mi padre.

Y todo se resbala de mis manos: la orden

de Dios, la oportunidad, las escamas

que se resbalan como ideas.


Y mientras el niño crecía

se fortalecía su espíritu:

un pastor en el desierto.


El cuervo, el mismo

hermano de otros cuervos

que llenarán la plaza de negro

y graznidos

en unos minutos, ese cuervo le entregaba

pan a San Pablo, uno sólo,

apenas para mantenerlo

en vida en su ermita

como si pudiéramos ser sólo testimonio.

Hasta allá anduvo a pie San Antonio


por sátiros y centauros. Al llegar

el cuervo

duplicó en recompensa

su ración de pan.


En la misma habitación en que mi cuerpo

viviría la violencia, hace unas horas

cuando tenía cinco años, me dí cuenta

de que podía leer al deletrear las palabras:


Ahí en la página se reunió

la luz y el rebaño. No hay nada blanco, o casi

nada entre ovejas que se enciman monte

arriba. Ni la espuma, ni la nieve, ni la nube

son de verdad blancas. Son ausencia de color

las primeras palabras deletreadas.



Cuando los corderos de Belén llegaron

(ritmo de olas repetidas) lo que el pastor

convoca, la primera línea leída es un sitio

de tenues desplazamientos, un valle líquido

que aún no se llama México, así y entonces

dibujé un árbol de corderos

(en el sitio que Dios pudo haber ocupado

sólo había un cuervo, y un hombre viejo

se retiraba en la orilla de esa hoja)


Mucho más tarde pero aún no ahora, en una película

y por supuesto en la vida porque la vida es así,

un hombre amargo

y griego que había sido bueno hasta entonces

(había sido él mismo quién había adoptado a la huerfanita)

la dejó crecer justo al punto de casarse con ella.

En realidad todos los países se parecen, los hombres a los hombres

y las mujeres a las mujeres. Y yo ahora estoy por contar

que ella escapó de “su padre-novio” para huir con su “hermano-

adoptivo” y la furia, la furia de no poder vaciar su amargura

el pozo limpio de su virgencita, lo llevó a matar

al rebaño entero, al colgar oveja por oveja,

rama por rama. Y sobre la tierra caía la sangre

que antes las ayudaba a correr, empapando la tierra

a tal punto que se confundía con agua.

Ya no era el antes sino el después. Cuando la habitación

por donde entraba la luz y donde yo leía “pastor-presidente-

Guelatao-respeto-derecho-ajeno” se inundaba

del interior líquido

de lo que antes estuvo vivo.  Ya no una mesa sino una cama

al centro, campo invadido, trinchera.


Y es ahí mismo donde se dio el maíz y el cacao

y donde acabo habiendo más puertas que ventanas,

más puertas que libros. Es ahí donde empezó

La República.


Ya llegó la hora de la hora, empezó el país

y por la ventana se ve su lustre verde. Entre la raíces

sangre. Y pensar que en esta misma plaza, aquí donde

parece que no pasa ninguna otra cosa más que la puesta

del sol, de cada laurel colgaban hombres. Y en el la hora

de la hora, ahora mismo, pájaros negros

(cuervos tal vez)

graznidos, chirrían de rama en rama. La tarde

vira del naranja al escarlata. Parece estar

ya en el cielo lo que llovió desde el árbol

aquel, el sacrificio del rebaño, aspavientos del hacha

de un pastor: fundaciones.


¿Cayó la sal?

Los mundos flotantes y la intención del niño

no tienen nada que ver con los países.

Más cuando abre el día, se hallan

(los mundos flotantes y la intención del niño)

en el inicio

de las horas, en caras que madrugan,

en ciertos recodos de nuestras sinuosas calles.




We say that absence is a country

We say that in this country the mouth and the lips rent the present tense to the humans who rummage through the garbage in the bodies of the ghosts:  the brothers who carry syrup and blood in their cheeks     the crazed deer    a thick, grey liquid escapes through their teeth    the love we look for here what a shame to not be able to touch the soul in its hair in its cadaver in the central orifice of its iris

And the ghosts rise from the wet grass into a blood-filled night    a howling night    a night of coronary arteries exploding in a painting in a mouth in a country in a city flooded with garbage and the radiant blood shining forming a layer of paint on the squirrels’ fur    the urban skunks    the coyotes calmly walking through the streets of our city that no longer has any public employees

Stranded poets stranded insects abandoned factories

Living here compadre is a death rattle a blow detonating the tongues the teeth the bones of the middle ear the vestibular canals the nerve fibers the tiny hairs…Living in this country is an infection an accumulation of liquid in a cavity eternally producing swelling in the membrane of the ear drum

A brief connection between a boy and a porcupine results in a nuclear thesis   a mathematical thesis    a calculation of the value of a body plus a country plus all its animals minus all its languages minus the refugees who escape from it minus the rivers minus the lakes minus the trees minus the reduced paisanos plus the hidden owls plus the natural gas plus the artificial blood plus the rain in the forest of your mouth

We say that the sky over this country is a liquid dripping from your mouth and the night is a miniscule explosion in your eyes

We say that the sky is a night hiding itself in the leaves of the trees covered in the history of our people’s violence

In the fever of _________

Today: I look at the images projected from your cheeks

They are memories of my overdevelopment

I am writing a story of love in the time of data fascism

I watch: the ruined sky hanging like a suicide from a tree

A suicide who climbs a bridge and looks down and his eyes fix on the blood that flows from the right ventricle through the pulmonary artery

And the river is crushed to pieces and a kidney rises from the floor of the river

Exhumed intestines spreading across the aridity that’s indigenous to our country of thirst

Yes: a sun dissolves    in the face   in the eyes    in the lips of the suicidal sky

And in this book that is a country deposited not in your heart but in your mouth where all your teeth sing as if they were not constantly checking up on the suicidal prisoners

Silence #1

Day #84.39a: the water reappears and rises up to the airplanes that carry bodies and books to the perfect spot for them to fall and fall through an inverted sky

Listen: the sky is screaming at the ash-bodies

And the bodies are little stains in the sky of ash

And these bodies belong to the terrorist group that’s called: humanity

A humanity with its map of dust that forms a secret that is a wave that is a tongue sinking into a shoulder    a back where all of the secrets are countries traversed by lungs     by canals    by salt-lagoons trumpeting the arrival of dawn

And dawn is the border between civilization “X” and civilization “Z”

And on each side of the border they construct tongues covered in sand    in desire    in a sinuous nostalgia

And the tongues lick up the border    they get lost in the glass the wind in a field sown with wheat with ambassadors of the paths that split me up into unmistakable statistics…

Forced silence #2

Children, listen well:  if we would have been tulips (in English)    if we would have been countries burning up on the borders of our ribs

If that’s what we would have been then the question you pose would be inevitable

Silence forced from my hope

Calm down, sister…..deep breath and don’t swallow the seeds of our inexhaustible invisibility

An authoritative voice says:  Mama: I hope to get to a crumbling country     a historical body which is a cell of a neck of an animal so fragile or so powerful that when it goes out into the sun its cities dissolve    its little jungles dissolve in its mouth

In its granular bones   those fibrous bones    in that nothing silenced by a green poison    malicious    infectious

Unfortunately:  I exist

Forced silence #2.2

How can it be that there are people who know nothing of the blows of life

My love is a fragile animal scraping against a whiff of vapor eating away at the last membrane in your voice    at the crystals shooting out of your face

My love collects invisible stones that are pinholes    that are excavated territories on a beach     on a land that belongs to none of the countries of thirst in your desiccated skin

Your skin filled with parasitic insects

Forced silence #8

I’m old

But I love Blindness #99933

In short

The space where silence is a dawn of blood that really enjoys its exiled existence

Silence #4

The protagonist says:  I’d rather not speak

She says:  I’d rather walk and walk and not think

She says: the broken light over the buildings makes me want to vomit

(Nature should have more shame)

Forced silence #50

The light that allows us to see unter menschen in the letters of a note that can only be written in your skin

Interminable silence #2

Finally and finally and finally




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